Leafs Line Combinations and NHL Debuts We Would All Like to See

Feb 9, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Peter Holland (24) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Peter Holland (24) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports /

I would never second-guess an NHL coach of Mike Babcock’s caliber, but there are a few Leafs line combinations I think we would all like to see.

My first example is one I have mentioned before – an energy line consisting of Matt Martin, Nikita Soshnikov, and Leo Komarov. They would surely drive other teams nuts and with the skill of Soshnikov and Komarov, would likely be very productive as well. The failing point of this line is of course winning face offs, but once they get the puck – look out.

There is no reason to mess with the Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner line and it appears that coach Babcock will be rightfully riding this productive combination for the foreseeable future. Having said that, I would like to see Auston Matthews take a few shifts at centre with JVR and Marner.

Considering that Bozak has missed a substantial number of games due to injury in four of the past six seasons he has been with the Leafs, giving Matthews a few reps on this line is simply prudent. Matthews becomes a ready-made replacement when the inevitable Bozak injury happens again and can hopefully keep the point production going.

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I like the recent change that saw William Nylander playing with Nazem Kadri and Komarov. This is an experiment that needs a longer look and gives Nylander a different and capable cast to orchestrate his on ice wizardry with.

Time will tell if Kadri and Komarov are a good fit with the young wheeler dealer. Nylander is the type of player who is so talented that auditioning different line mates until the right chemistry is found will bear enormous points production fruit in the future.

My final trio of the list of potential Leafs line combinations is a checking/energy line of Connor Brown, Ben Smith and Peter Holland. This unit makes perfect sense when looking a little closer at each player’s contract circumstances. All three are on expiring deals and it could be argued that all are playing for their NHL careers to be extended.

This is especially true of Holland and Smith who have no guarantees of being re-upped by the Leafs, or any other NHL team for that matter. It could be said of Brown on the other hand that he is skating for dollars, as in what his next Leafs contract will look like, but as a waiver exempt rookie still proving his worth to the big club, he is every bit as motivated as the other two.

Besides, it is no secret that Holland has not earned the trust of his coach, for lack of a better way of saying it, a stint on a line with equally motivated compadres just might showcase him enough to be traded. For some players, a fresh start with a new team and coach rejuvenates their careers.

As far as NHL debuts go, after watching most of the Marlies games this season, there is not one specific player that stands out as being NHL ready. It would be fair to say that virtually all players currently on the Marlies roster can use more time in the AHL.

We can rightfully expect that Kasperi Kapenan will get an extended look with the Leafs some time in the near future, but he is not truly a debut candidate as he has nine NHL games under his belt. The same could be said of Brendan Leipsic and Viktor Loov, as both have a handful of NHL games between them.

Leafs line combinations
Mar 24, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (39) and forward Nazem Kadri (43) celebrate a win over the Anaheim Ducks at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Anaheim 6-5 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

I am speaking of real debuts, where a player skates in the NHL for the first time. For this my list is very short with just three names in Antoine Bibeau, Andrew Nielsen and Justin Holl.

Bibeau’s entry level contract is up this year and he has great stats this season and for most of last season. Sometimes however, great AHL stats — especially that of goaltenders — can be fool’s gold. It is time to see how he fares against NHL shooters before any decision on his future contract status is made.

Holl has done little this season to earn an NHL debut, which is a bit disappointing for anyone who saw how rapidly he improved his game as a first year pro last season. Still, his contract was upgraded from an AHL to an NHL deal upon renewal for a reason – his potential as a solid, mobile right shooting defender is still a reality.

Nielsen as an NHL debut candidate is a bit different than the other two, where it is a case of seeing how they fare against big league competition to determine their future with the Leafs. Nielsen should be called up to show him first hand what he needs to do to stick down the road, what he needs to improve on and to give him first hand experience with the speed of the NHL. With 11 points in 14 games, Nielsen has forced his way to the top of the Leafs defensive depth chart and his future with the team looks bright.

Next: 4 Potential Trade Partners to Improve the Leafs Blueline

Are there any Leafs line combinations you would like to see? Can you think of any call ups or NHL debut candidates not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments section.